BANKS, NORMAN TYRELL (1905–85)
Norman Banks was a leading Melbourne radio broadcaster, both before and after World War II. Joining 3KZ in 1931, Banks was one of the pioneers of a natural, conversational style that distinguished commercial radio in the 1930s from the ABC, which sought to emulate the formal, distant manner of the BBC.
Banks quickly shaped an informal, friendly, ‘man-next-door’ personality, and was consistently voted one of the most popular broadcasters in Victoria throughout the 1930s. He was a versatile and enthusiastic broadcaster, initiating programs such as The Voice of the Voyager, based on an American program, in which he interviewed famous visitors to Melbourne as their ships entered the port. With numerous variations on this program—such as The Voice of the People, The Voice of the Shopper and The Voice of the Business Girl—Banks took radio out into the world of his listeners as it increasingly became part of their daily lives. Perhaps the most dramatic of his initiatives was his continuous, live broadcast of VE Day celebrations at the end of World War II from the Manchester Unity Building opposite the Melbourne Town Hall.
A keen follower of football and other sports, Banks broadcast his first live coverage of a VFL match in 1931 while standing on a ladder at the end of the Princes Park dressing room. But sport also led to his departure from 3KZ, when he insisted on going to the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. Rival station 3AW quickly took him on and he covered both the Helsinki and Melbourne Games for them. Banks was appointed MBE in 1953.
At 3AW, he moved into public affairs programming, and in 1956 became the station’s world news editor-in-chief. His conservative social and political opinions became more explicit in this context. His outspoken views—for example, in support of the apartheid regime in South Africa—and suggestions that he was anti-Semitic led to his move into public affairs television being rather short-lived. The Norman Banks Program for GTV9, which commenced in 1963, was cancelled less than two years later. But he retained a hugely popular following on radio, and by 1970 it was reported that he attracted 300,000 Melbourne listeners who tuned in to his show for at least two hours each week. Ill-health forced his retirement in July 1978.
REFs: Banks Papers (SLV); L. Johnson, The Unseen Voice (1988).